My third book by Ian McEwan (first was The Cement Garden, then Amsterdam). Again, the writing is beautiful and something I can get lost in, and with t...moreMy third book by Ian McEwan (first was The Cement Garden, then Amsterdam). Again, the writing is beautiful and something I can get lost in, and with this beauty McEwan is consistent. In Cement Garden, he fashioned the a supreme eeriness, in Amsterdam the lighthearted, and in this book, the grief and displacement that comes with any tragedy.
I get lost in that displacement with Stephen, the main character of this story, yet this empathy for him made me frustrated too because there were a lot of instances in which Stephen falls into reverie, "time-jumps," so the narrative I am following falls to pieces in these mix-ups. It's hard to keep up and maintain sympathy for Stephen when he's so annoyingly disoriented (yet who am I to judge - I haven't lost a kid before). Sometimes it gets slow or tedious because there are some dense passages that I think the book can do without.
The book ends satisfyingly as we see Stephen reconcile his disorientation and grief as the reader comes to understand what it really means to be a "child," what it means to come to terms with time and how we position ourselves in the flow of it. As we get lost with Stephen, we also become rooted as he becomes rooted, and that's an interesting exercise in itself. (less)
I almost want to give this 4 stars, but I can't (which is explained later).
I don't know what anyone expects, but this is not the Rowling you're accust...moreI almost want to give this 4 stars, but I can't (which is explained later).
I don't know what anyone expects, but this is not the Rowling you're accustomed to from the Harry Potter series. For one, the prose is obviously more elevated (though sometimes it looks like Rowling is trying too hard to write an 'adult novel' - some words seemed subbed in via thesaurus, other times she insists on using "perennial"[this seems to be her FAVORITE word] and "ostentatiously" ineffectively.) but it is pleasing to read. It carries that same flow and ease that young readers might be used to from the Harry Potter books, the kind of lulling that compels you to turn the page.
And the subject matter is considerably darker - it's all about the small town of Pagford, politics, teenagers (and all the things they're normally associated with), class divisions, etc. But despite these differences, I felt the same kind of homeyness I felt towards Hogwarts and Privet Drive. Rowling builds towards an intense familiarity by alternating constantly between scenarios (which is jarring at first but serves its purpose later) and her depth in characterization. It is hard not to care about this small town and its citizens. With apparently thirty-four characters, The Casual Vacancy is an immense but mostly successful project.
The only thing that bothered me was, in my opinion, the obvious effort on Rowling's part to write a more "adult," "realistic" novel by aiming for extreme interconnectedness, a kind of contriving air that never pervaded the Harry Potter books. The central device for moving the plot forward also felt clunky and ignorantly fantastical. Luckily, this only started to emerge toward the last third of the book. Part of this "adult" approach resulted in Rowling's inevitable inclusion of things like rape, prostitution, drugs, self-harm, etc. in ways that seemed to only serve the purpose of elucidating the "reality of reality" and instilling "reality" in fiction. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. As such, some characters (one in particular) seem unjustifiably sacrificed in the name of Rowling's fiction. And ultimately, these efforts detracted from the message that Rowling seemed to be trying to make about class divisions, prejudices, poverty, etc. While these connections may speak to the small, intense community of a town, it perhaps could have been better executed.
All in all, I liked it and I'm glad I read it. It's an endearing book about an endearing town with endearing characters. Give it a shot.(less)
I've read Abstinence Teacher and The Leftovers already, which I hated and enjoyed respectively. So this is my third run with Perrotta - I figure what...moreI've read Abstinence Teacher and The Leftovers already, which I hated and enjoyed respectively. So this is my third run with Perrotta - I figure what keeps me coming back is how well he captures the dry droll of present suburbia life, that whole shindig of getting old, settling down, raising a family, etc. It's something I think future generations will enjoy as a flashback to our own times, much like how we read the period classics for insight into the societies of Austen, Dalloway, and Eyre.
However, I don't think the book carries the drama of an illicit pleasure well - there isn't that anticipation or feeling of complicity that comes with following a secret affair, eagerly turning over the pages and involuntarily uttering things out loud. Maybe I shouldn't be reading it in that way - it's not supposed to be a thriller, but the affair seems to be the central focus of the book. Again, I found issue with Perrotta's treatment of the female lead character, Sarah, much like how I found issue with his treatment of the female lead in The Abstinence Teacher. Are all women in this day and age frumpy sexually-frustrated deviants with tunnel-vision reminiscent of those caught in their wide-eyed teenage years? Maybe that's the point (?).
What strikes me even more is what comes off as the book's unfair treatment of Mr. McGorvey. The text is unsurprisingly demonizing and other than for one major detail, gives little shape to a promising character that comes to drive a lot of the novel's plot. It reminded me much of how J.K. Rowling used cliche knowledge of the internet and technology to write The Casual Vacancy.
But again, Perrotta is great at constructing a fictional suburbia with real (but fictional) concerns over individual vs family, midlife crises, and the overall vacancy that looms over traditional yet unfulfilling lives of largely self-absorbed people. Most of all, there is no love story here, and there is no love. Everything ends on a sense of resignation, hopelessness. To me, that's a bit refreshing. (less)
I wouldn't say this is one of the worst books of all time but I will admit that it is very unappealing to me. The series as a whole doesn't strike me...moreI wouldn't say this is one of the worst books of all time but I will admit that it is very unappealing to me. The series as a whole doesn't strike me as very original or literary for that matter: aimless, numbingly simple girl is sucked into a fast-paced romance with a self-loathing vampire that seems, even having lived for xxx amount of years, desperate for a girl just because of her scent. It appeals, however, to other audiences of which I am not a part of. It might seem vapid, but I see why thousands of readers follow and read the series avidly. A good book has something to give. It might not apply to me but it sure as hell applies to others. (less)